Six-time major tournament victor, and winner of 43 tournaments worldwide, Nick Faldo is enjoying his new role as a TV commentator
From the Print Edition:
George Lopez, January/February 2010
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"I haven't really worked out how his mind works. He's unique among players I've met. Ballesteros was so emotional, mercurial. Nick was a commanding presence who had the ability to put the ball where he wanted to. He wasn't immensely long, even though he was imposing in size. He was very meticulous to the point of being anal about things. Hell, he used to practice dropping the ball. Even now, I'll be sitting in the gym looking in the mirror to see if there are any nose hairs poking out and he's working with a medicine ball sweating like a fat girl at her sister's wedding. He's unbelievably professional in everything he does. The man he is, I really don't know. But what I do know I like."
Not all are convinced that the Faldo we see today is the genuine article. Nick Price, a three-time major champion and longtime opponent of Faldo, isn't convinced that there is somehow a new Faldo.
"I suppose the thing with Faldo is that he was never a warm person at all," says Price. "He would not be someone to return friendship. You could be as kind as you could be to him and the next day he would walk straight past you. A lot of times he wouldn't even greet you with your name. He'd say hello and walk past you. He's a very strange person to try to figure out. He's very much his own person. He said he turned over a new leaf, what, eight years ago. Well, you can't be one person for 20 years and turn it around and ‘I'm all happy and friendly.' He had hurt a lot of people in the interim."
Price detested playing with Faldo. "I never enjoyed playing with him," he confesses. "He played so slowly. So deliberate. Invariably you would always be on the clock with him. And when they did put you on the clock, he'd ask why and meanwhile you were two holes behind the group in front of you. That happened on numerous occasions."
In the 1988 Open championship at Royal Lytham, the title hunt came down to Seve Ballesteros and Price over the final round, with Faldo also in their group. Price remembers the day vividly, though not fondly. "Seve and I both eagled the sixth hole to put some substantial difference between ourselves and Nick and the field," he says. "It became evident that one of us was going to win. Faldo behaved so badly that day. He tried to shift the focus from us to him. He would try to get people to stop walking who were 300 yards away. A dog barking, a cameraman, a pitiful display of petulance."
Scott Hoch, who lost a sudden-death play-off to Faldo in the 1989 Masters, remembers playing with him in the Swiss Open. "There was some local rule that you could remove rocks from the bunkers without penalty. I wasn't aware of it," he says. "I hit my drive into the face of a bunker and rolled back against a rock. We were walking close together and I say, ‘Just my luck, I got a rock behind my ball.'
"He says, ‘Yup, that's a shame.' He doesn't say anything about the rule. Anybody I know would have said you get to remove that. He might have thought I should have known that. He was not a good person to play with. He had tunnel vision and he didn't care about anybody. I would say that I have been around him some in the evening and he wasn't a bad guy."
The ruffling of professional feathers, the failure of marriages and romance, are not things that Faldo wants to get into. They happened, they can't be fixed now, and he is the person he is. "Regrets?" he says. "I don't like calling them regrets. Things happen and you make decisions. I went through a period where bells were ringing in my ears. You have a girlfriend and you think, ‘Boy, oh boy, what was I thinking? Why didn't somebody hit me.' Things happen where you go off in a direction in your life, a midlife crisis or two. Fortunately, you can laugh about them now. At the time you need some gutsy people around you. I've got good friends for 30, 40 years now, mainly outside the game. I kind of like that. Like to get away from the game of golf."
And he did get away from golf, even back when it was virtually his whole life. His children were an escape, and so was fishing. The solitude of fishing, its gentle rhythms didn't require the Iron Chest. And fishing produced one of his most memorable, and decidedly human, moments. "In 1987 I won the Open at Muirfield, my first major, and bought myself a split-cane fishing rod, 600 pounds sterling," says Faldo. "I'm fishing on this farm, on the river. I'm casting and give it a go and the thing gets stuck behind me. I give it a pull and I hear ‘mmmmmmmmmmooo.' I turn around and I've stuck it in the backside of a 400-pound Friesen cow. He's looking at me going ‘What the . . .' then he starts going. I'm thinking, ‘Oh, don't break the rod, break the line.' I start running after him. Seriously. I run about 30 yards and I pulled it out, the hook straightened out and it came right out of his butt. Whew."
Photography, sketching, sculpting, drums, tennis are all things that appeal to him, if he can make the time. The television schedule comes first, then the family time, then the golf course design things, the Faldo Series things, the corporate things. Early in 2008 he was at the TaylorMade facility in California when he got a phone call.
"Hallo mate, how are ya?" says the voice in a decided East End accent. "It's Nicko McBrain, the Iron Maiden drummer," says Faldo, obviously delighted that such a music legend would somehow be reaching out to him. "He said ‘I would love to play golf with you, you could give me lessons.' I said ‘You know, I am a failed drummer, frustrated drummer.' I said I would trade lessons for a drum kit. He brought the kit to the house [in Orlando] and we fitted the drum kit for me, which is more fun that fitting a set of golf clubs. He's super fussy like me. Everything has to be perfect. He's just like me. All the angles of the cymbals have to be the same. That took an hour. It was really cool. I'm a 54-handicap drummer. I've got a balcony in my two-story entry, there's a tiny curve in it and I plunked it there. I've got a drumhead that all the players at the Ryder Cup [he was the European captain in 2008] signed for me. I carry the drumsticks with me, but I haven't practiced much. I'm not as fanatical about it."
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